It’s as dependable as spring flowers starting to sprout from the ground, or the annual NBA playoffs (Go Warriors!). Performance review season rolls around, and if you did a good enough job, you get a raise — right? Not so fast: “In today's tight economy, companies and managers are having to make tough decisions about where and how to allocate rewards like raises and promotions,” says Mikaela Kiner, Founder/CEO of UniquelyHR. In other words, raises are no longer a given — you can’t simply expect them after you’ve put in X amount of time at your company.
But when you don’t see the boost in your paycheck you were hoping for, what exactly could the reason be? And how can you make sure you get one the next time around? We asked a handful of career experts to weigh in — read on to learn which mistakes they recommend avoiding, as well as ways to remedy the situation. Trust us — your bank account will thank you.
1. You Didn’t Bring It Up
It’s probably a given that any employee wouldn’t mind making more money — but unless you specifically bring it up to your manager, it might not be on their mind. “I am not suggesting that you constantly tell your boss you want a raise. But - it does help to make your aspirations known,” Kiner says. “While raises are important for some people, others may value more stock, recognition, or a nice year end bonus. It pays (pun intended) to share your financial goals with your manager about once a year then work with him/her on a plan that will help you meet your goals.”
“Don't assume the boss knows your worth,” adds Laura MacLeod, Creator of From The Inside Out Project®. “You'll need to promote yourself if you want to be noticed and rewarded.”
2. You Aimed Too High
When it comes to earning a raise, not bringing it up is probably the biggest mistake you can make — but requesting an unreasonable upgrade is a close second. “You may have asked for a dollar amount or percentage increase that was far above the company norm. If so, your boss may feel you are totally out of touch with what you are worth and the company's budget,” MacLeod says. Doing research on how much people in your position are typically paid (both inside the company and out) is a great way to get a ballpark estimate — get a free, personalized salary estimate with Know Your Worth™ as a first step. Once you have this information, “go back and revise your request, stating that you now have the stats to back it up,” MacLeod advises.
3. You Didn’t Make a Business Case
“With today's focus on engagement, culture and perks, we sometimes forget that companies are in the business of making money. Why should your manager give you a raise? It's because you're a valued member of the team and your contributions are important to the company's success,” says Kiner. As such, you need to tie all reasons that you deserve a raise back to your company’s bottom line.
“Have a compiled list of your key contributions and successes over the past year or even past few years,” recommends Wendi Weiner, Resume Writer & Career Transition Coach. “Think about projects you've led, clients you've won over, and partnerships you've grown because of your hard work. Demonstrating to your boss why you deserve a raise should encompass factual support.”
4. You Asked for the Wrong Thing
When performance review time rolls around, don’t get raises confused with promotions — because it may be easier to get the secure the former than the latter. “If you ask for a promotion when all you're really after is a bigger paycheck, then you may be told ‘no’ because there aren't any open positions or you're not quite ready for that increased responsibility yet,” says Josh Doody, author of Fearless Salary Negotiation. “You might be better off if you specifically ask for a raise.”
5. You Didn’t Align on Priorities
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the following scenario play out: Employee works hard all review period, checks in with boss frequently about the work being done, but never forces a conversation around their performance. They assume no [news] is good news... then come review time, the manager delivers what they think is a positive and fair review, only to hear frustration and disappointment,” says executive coach Kate O’Sullivan. The key, Sullivan says, is “[letting] your boss know at the BEGINNING of the review period. Talk to him/her about what their expectations are for what you’d need to produce... What are the metrics or key performance indicators you’ll be measured on? Get them in writing. Check in regularly,” and “make sure you know you’re focusing on the right things.”
6. You Weren’t a Team Player
"The fact that you are a stellar performer is less significant to the organization than your ability to help others perform well too. People who get raises and promotions make it about the whole team, not themselves,” says Debra Benton, Executive Coach and author of the upcoming book The Leadership Mind Switch: Rethinking How We Lead in the New World of Work. “Even if you are the star in the group, share the glory.”
7. You Didn’t Go Above and Beyond
Meeting your goals isn’t always enough to merit a raise — often, that’s the bare minimum of what’s expected for a position. What really stands out to higher ups is exceeding those goals. “Most companies use a pay for performance philosophy, where the biggest rewards go to top performers. So if you are competent and ‘get your job done,’ that may secure your place at work, but not be enough to earn you an increase,” Kiner says. Next performance review cycle, aim to come to the table with demonstrable proof of how you’ve hit your objectives out of the ballpark.
8. You Overestimated Your Performance
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but sometimes the reason you haven’t gotten a raise yet is just that you’re not doing quite as well as you think you are. “Take a good hard look at your performance, attitude, and the competition. Evaluate this as objectively as possible, getting opinions from trusted colleagues. If you determine that indeed you are as spectacular as you think, approach your boss and have a conversation,” MacLeod recommends. “Frame it as a learning opportunity — you're disappointed you didn't get a raise and you'd like to know how to improve your performance. You'd like to do the best job possible, so you are looking for specifics — what is lacking and how can I improve?”
Weiner also recommends taking “three major recommendations or areas of required improvement” from your last performance review and placing them in a column. “Then pair up specific examples of actions you have undertaken that evidence how or why you have improved on those necessary areas.”
9. You Gave Up Too Soon
Another possible driver behind your lack of a raise? You may have simply not pushed the issue hard enough. Negotiation is a bit of a back-and-forth dance, and you can’t just bow out after the first couple of steps. Maybe “you built a strong case and your manager would like to give you a raise, but the budget wasn't available, or the company was restructuring. So the answer you got was ‘No,’ and you just gave up in frustration. But what you should have heard is ‘Not yet,’” Doody shares. “Use these email templates to follow up with your manager and ask specifically what you need to do to earn the raise you've requested, and how long you should wait before you revisit the conversation. This gives your manager the opportunity to work with you to put together a plan and a timeline for you both to monitor and work toward over the next few months. You may still get that raise after all!”